24 September 2009

Reading Genesis, Pt. 1

Two posts ago, I left off with the question, “Is male hierarchy God’s intended order for creation for all time?”  The hierarchical complementarians answer yes, and the egalitarians (and I) answer no.  In this post, I’ll begin a discussion of gender in the creation narratives of Genesis 1 and 2. 

I’d like to start by noting that Genesis has two distinct creation narratives in the first two chapters.  For various linguistic and literary reasons, scholars think these may have been written by different authors at different times.  But at the very least, the people of God retained both accounts placed side by side, suggesting to us that each offers an important insight into the God who created all and that God’s relationship to that creation.  

The first narrative focuses, of course, on God’s effortless and artful work of creating the cosmos.  Unlike other ancient gods, this God expends no more energy than a puff of breath to bring order to chaos.  The narrative builds from foundational, inanimate elements like light, earth and water to thriving living things.  Climactic in God’s work is the creation of human beings who, male and female alike, are made in the image and likeness of their Creator.  To these humans (male and female), God gives the first commands (to humans) in our Scriptures: “Be fruitful and multiply” and be responsible stewards over the rest of creation.  The latter command is one of the things that separates human beings from the creepy crawlies in this narrative - it’s giving them, both male and female, some sort of shared authority over creation.  (Aside: if we are to be like God in our care for the earth and its inhabitants, it ought to facilitate the living and thriving of all creatures.  One soapbox at a time, Kel...)

I think, for most of us, there’s no question that men and women are both made in the image of God.  That is, aside from a few histrionic patriarchalists in the last century who claimed that only men were made in God’s image.  (But they do offer a wonderful example of why it’s so imperative that our modern Bible translations should use gender inclusive language -- Ah! Another soapbox! They’re everywhere!)  I’d argue that, at the very least, this “image and likeness of God” entails a shared responsibility for and authority over the rest of creation.  Drawing from the theological richness of the Christian tradition, I’d also claim that human beings are like the triune God in that they are relational beings.  As “God is love”, we are to “love one another.”  I’d venture to say that this gives us a picture of harmonious, loving partnership between women and men that is central to our identity as bearers of the image of God.

From this first creation account, both the HC and the E can claim grounds for their agreement that men and women are equal before God.  Both are created in God’s image, so there is an essential, ontological equality.  It’s in their interpretations of the second creation account that the HC and the E diverge from one another.  The HC would claim that a hierarchy of roles based on gender does not undermine this essential equality.  On the other hand, the E think that, if we really believe men and women are essentially equal, it should be reflected in egalitarian roles.  In other words, ontological equality should correlate with practical equality.  These distinct perspectives color our interpretations of the second creation narrative.

Unfortunately, I have some errands to run and packing to do, so that’ll have to wait until tomorrow.


Naomi said...

I have been marking all your posts in my Blog-Reader (it collects them for me!) for the past few weeks and just now caught up on them. I thought about leaving all my various reaction on the corresponding blogs, then changed my mind and decided to dump them all here as my way of saying "I'm joining your conversation now."

I think when people think about women as leaders in the church, they cease thinking of as women, and aren’t sure exactly where to put us, so they create this “undecided” category. The thought process (subconsciously) goes something like this: Men are supposed to lead and women are supposed to cook/clean/raise children. A woman who wants to lead must not want to cook, clean, or raise children. Obviously, I don’t buy this. From a young age I wanted to have children but also from a young age I naturally gravitated toward leadership roles and excelled in them. I think the resistance comes partially from an assumption that leadership and womanhood are mutually exclusive, so in wanting to lead, women are seeking to be male (toned down version: “usurp authority”). But, if true conversation were able to happen, it would be revealed that it is precisely in our femininity that we want to lead.

Related to that, ultimately, my motivation for having conversations like these has almost nothing to do with my own interest (I want to preach, I want to lead, why won’t you listen to me?). I think, when we have time and space to vent our bitterness elsewhere, the women who want this subject to be reconsidered have the interest of the church at heart. First of all, if it is even possible that the church is perpetuating oppression to any group for things that are outside of their control (to a gender, an ethnicity, a social class, etc) the church should be accountable for that. Secondly, the church has unhealthily perceived of God as male for 2,000 years and, while there are helpful metaphors for God that are male, God is not actually (in God’s being) male and any voices (female or other) that can help the church understand God more fully should be heard rather than suppressed.

Regarding what you said about wanting to be accepted as a complete person without being married, it’s been interesting for me to see the transition in the way people in my parents’ church (which was also my church for 20+ years) reacted to my being in theological studies before and after Jamey and I were married. Before our marriage, the reaction was usually either confusion or concern (I imagine those who were angry didn’t bother to talk to me at all): What is she going to do with that degree? How will she support herself? After our marriage, people mostly stopped talking to me about what I am doing in school. They just ask Jamey what he’s doing, which is especially ironic since they have only known him for a year. If my degree comes up, my perception is that it is more acceptable now, because there’s no concern that I will be starving on the street, and I may as well get whichever degree I want as long as I finish it soon so I can start being a mommy.

You also mentioned the danger of generalizing male-female stereotypes as to how, specifically, we are different. This has been on my mind a lot lately! For example, Jamey is a much better cook than I am; if left to provide for myself I would eat Little Caesar’s pizza and Kraft Mac & Cheese every day and be just fine! So, he does most of the cooking for us. But I do all of the cleaning, because I enjoy cleaning. Regarding church work, while Jamey is a good preacher, it is not his preferred career path, nor are many of the other pieces of paid ministry: event-planning, relationship-building, pastoral counseling/conversing, etc. On the other hand, many of those things are precisely up my alley. Not only have I been affirmed and trained in them, but they are life-giving to me. Yet, it is more likely that Jamey will work in a church than I.
If you (or anyone else) made it through all of that, I'm impressed. More importantly, I'm excited to hear (read?) your continued thoughts!

Kelli said...

Oh, I definitely made it through all of that! You can dump here anytime!

I seriously cannot count how many times people have incredulously asked me, "What are you going to do with that degree?!" (I was afraid for a long time that their skepticism would be proved right.) So many of the things you've said resonate with my experience in church too.

Re: the married = complete thing: I really appreciate your comment here. It sounds like, as it turned out, being married to Jamey gave them a way to avoid/ignore the parts of you that make them uncomfortable. That's hardly being considered as a complete person.

Janet's Journey said...

Kelli, great post. I wish you had been in church a couple of Sunday's ago. Rachel gave the communion thoughts. Joanna sang a solo. Nothing bad happened. No lightning strikes. Very tender service with everyone in tears at the last meeting of HOPE at HWY 351. We missed you at that service and I though of your work on our new place even though you will not meet there for many weeks.